Radical Restoration

I can not remember the day I came to know Jesus’ saving power.

I must’ve been little.  I remember being in Sunday school even before my little sister was born pretending to have chest pains.  The teacher said, alarmed, “What’s wrong?”  And I said, “Jesus is in my heart.  I can feel Him moving around in there.”

I was always told about Jesus.  It was part of a heritage given to me by mother, aunt and grandmother.  He is a constant in my life, without beginning and without end.

I have no exciting story of radical salvation.

My story is more one of radical restoration.

As a young teenager, I resented not having had a ‘before’.  I felt like my saving story was kind of anticlimactic and boring even.  I remember being asked to give a testimony and it going like this, “I have just always known Him.”

Certainly at various times in life, I stepped away from His grace, away from the cross.  I walked my own way.  Walked my own path.  Made some mistakes, changed my life for the good and the ill.

But what has always been true is this:  He has been faithful to me.  He never gave up, never forgot and never walked away.

I might fight Him, I might ignore Him, I might misunderstand what makes Him good…but He always brings me through.

When Big Life Stuff comes my way, I often fight His goodness and refuse to believe in it. I accuse Him of loving everyone else but me. I accuse Him of not wanting to give good gifts to me. I cry and I flail and I struggle and strive.

And when I reach the end of my endurance, as I always do,  and my eyes have nowhere else to look…I remember Him. I remember Him. And I remembered that in all of the Big Life Stuff, there are always truths that I can stand on.
1. HE is real.
2. HE is good.
3. HE loves me.
4. HE will work all things together for my good.
5. His ways are not my ways.

I’ve talked about these truths before but I keep going back to them because I know they are true. And what I want to say to you today is this:

Whether I am fighting Him or cooperating, whether I am laughing or crying, whether am in sin or in righteousness and whether I believe it or not, these things are true. He is real, He is good, He loves me, He will work all things together for my good.

And because I can rest in the fact that these things are true and because I can know them like I know my name…I can accept number five.  His ways are not my ways.  He does things in His own way.  He is mysterious and creative.  He thinks of things I would never think of.  He sees the beginning, the middle and the end.  He can see that sometimes the thing that I think will save the day is really the thing that’s going to ruin everything.  He knows the end of the story.  He does, in fact, know better.

And the best part of it all is that no matter what, no matter where I am or what I’m doing…He stands with me.  If I’ve told Him I’m done with Him and never want to speak His name again…He stands with me.  If I cling to His garment and beg for mercy, He stands with me.  If I am apathetic and wrapped up in the world, He stands with me.  Because He doesn’t change and He is love and so His love never changes.  It never, ever changes.

Over the weekend, I stood on the beach and stared at the waves.  I breathed the salted air.  I felt the warm and cool sand on my bare feet.  I felt His air all around me.  The oceans they rolled on and on and on and on.  The waves crashed and crashed and crashed…perfectly in tune and I looked at the ocean and thought…”These are the oceans He created.”  Such a mystery.  Such majesty.

This same One who made the ocean and who never changes…He is the same One who made me, who loves me and who is wildly faithful to me.

A piece of my heart that had never been stirred before came to life.

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I Look Up To The Sky and Say…

Today’s early morning baby wake up call opened our eyes to pink and orange skies over the Roanoke Sound. My heart sang “I look up to the sky and say, ‘You’re beautiful'”.
There is something glorious in how all the earth testifies to his glory. He paints these colors on the sky, just because He can. He leaves us these little gifts, like mimosa trees or sunflowers or flame orange clouds.
Later today, we will go to the ocean and listen to His majesty in the waves, see His beauty in the clouds and feel his creativity in the sands and shells.
Our whole purpose this weekend is to rest and regroup. To study the Word, to spend time, to be present with each other and with the family that’s with us here, to recharge.
This weekend, I will pause and feel His goodness, take a second, breathe deep. I am stepping out. Like I’ve been stepping out for days and days now. Stepping into His goodness in the land of the living.

Carpe Kairos (www.momastery.com)

Carpe Kairos (www.momastery.com)

Today began quite a bit earlier than I’d planned. At 6:30, a small voice was making a loud noise in the next room. I let her grumble for a few minutes, knowing that she really needed to sleep until 8:00 or so, but she was done sleeping.
When I went to pick her up, groggy and chilly in the early morning dimness, she held her little arms up and snuggled close. This baby is not a snuggler, she is far too busy for that. When she actually gives a hug, we take it gratefully because they are few and far between.
In my room, she settles in beside me in my bed, breaking a long bent rule I have about not having children in my bed.
John said something like that, “I’m sorry you have to be up so early.” And I just thought, yes, more sleep would be nice but this snuggly, wriggling toddler is nice too.
How long before she doesn’t need cuddles and kisses early in the morning? How long before she actually starts sleeping well? I am told it can happen at any time.
I took in the moment. The smell of her auburn hair…like baby shampoo and basically everything she ate last night. The warmth of her little cheek. Her fat little hand pressed to my cheek. The sound of her voice when she said, “Mama.”
Five kids in, I know how fast it all goes by. I know how fleeting these moments are.
And in fact, the moment was over and this little girl was ready to take on a day filled with Bob the Tomato and getting in trouble for going up the stairs and terrifying the whole household with her scary face.
As I hauled my stiff, achy joints down the stairs to make a waffle and fire up Netflix (The Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything), I thought of Glennon and the Momastery and a post she made some time ago about not seizing the whole day, but seizing the moments.
This was a moment worth seizing…and a moment worth being a little sleepy for.

Sit, Talk, Laugh

Every afternoon, I got to Lindsey’s house to wrangle youngsters, sweep the floor and play Words With Friends on my iPod.

I find Lindsey’s house to be a peaceful, welcoming environment. For one thing, it’s blessedly uncluttered. (My own home is more like Mrs. Weasley’s house, The Burrow, minus the self washing dishes and really cool clock.) But I got thinking about it the other day and I realized that it’s more than that. All around me are reminders- reminders about how to be my best, reminders to laugh, love, believe. Positive words all around that are a symphony of encouragement and positive thinking.

Dream.

Believe the impossible, hope for what is unseen. Imagine the possibilities.

Reminders to laugh.
Because if you can’t laugh…you’re in trouble. I have to laugh when Claire pulls out all of the Tupperware. I have to laugh when James tells me he was in school for SEVEN HOURS. I have to laugh when David asks me how many days in a row can be AWESOME? I have to laugh when Lila tries desperately to get these boys to play babies with her. I have to laugh when they laugh. A merry heart does good like a medicine, after all.



Truths about family and God and how He loves.
Love is patient, love is kind. We are blessed. We are beloved. We are formed with care and we are precious. We are His possessions, carefully crafted and deeply cherished.  This is Love.  That He laid down His life for us.




Here is how we must live.
To be content, to be joyful, we must live not for ourselves but for Him and for His people. We have to do our best to be loving.

Live.
It is for freedom He set us free. Let us live as free.

Here are the words from this exhortation on the hallway wall.


Desiderata

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Lately I’m learning the importance of Good Words.  I’m not suggesting we lose all sense of realism and become annoying about it.  I can’t stand it when people are all:  “God is good, all the time!  All things work together for our good!  He won’t give you more than you can handle!”  All of that is certainly true but listen…Truth is still truth.  Some things really just suck.  Like the fact that the brand new chocolate milk bottle exploded all over the fridge last night.  (But there is milk in the fridge.)  Or the fact that the car is still making That Noise.  (But I have a car that has never left me stranded.)  Or the fact that I’m on my third poopy diaper of the morning.  (My baby is alive and well and here to poop.)

What about the heavier things?

My grandmother has Parkinson’s and here are two truths about her:

She is getting much, much sicker and we’re going to have to say good bye soon.  (She has lived a life worth celebrating.  In sickness and in health, in good times and bad, she has loved and lived Jesus.  She has passed down a heritage of faith, a legacy of love.)

I am divorced and here are two truths about that:

I was divorced after sixteen years of marriage and four children.  (God has shown me how He stands with me in trial and He has restored those things I’ve losted- He’s given me good gifts in my marriage to John and with my children.)

It makes a difference.  If I say just, well, the chocolate milk is everywhere and the car is clunking and the baby has pooped through her diaper AGAIN…well, that’s a drag.  If I say, Paw has had Parkinson’s for twenty years and she’s at the end of her life.  If I say, I was divorced after sixteen years and four kids and it was awful.  What if I say, we’ve got plenty of groceries, that old car is hanging in there and as reliable as ever and my baby is healthy and strong and such a good eater.  What if I say, My Paw has blessed our lives with her faith and her love and affection.  She has been a warrior for the Lord.  My marriage to John and the way my family serves the Lord today are such miracles.  Which one brings more life?  Obviously the second set of statements.  More cheer, more good, more positive.

The actual truth is this:

Both sets of statements are true at the same time.  Two halves of the same story.  Sometimes things are had.  Sometimes things are awesome, but most of the time its a 2 for 1.  It’s almost never all or nothing.  I can be real.  I can be authentic and honest and I can speak life at the same time.  I can tell both halves of the story.  I just must remember to testify to both halves.

Today, my back is killing me.  Today, I am grateful for my health.

Today, I am learning to live a whole life after some Big Life Things kicked the snot out of me.  Today, I am grateful for the journey for how He stands with me in the storm.

Today, I am a complainer, a realist pessimist.  Today, I will practice speaking Good Words.  I will tell both halves of every story.

And, to Lindsey and her house, I say thank you for the lesson.  I say thank you for making a space where Good Words are all around, where they sing to me from walls and windows.  I say thank you to God for singing those Good Words over me.  I’m just sorry that it takes several tries sometimes for me to listen.

 

You Brought Me to the Wilderness, So I Could Learn To Sing

Since 2007, life has been more about change than not.

I had my fourth, my prayed for, much wanted pregnancy.

It was difficult and I was on bed rest for a long time.

I had my daughter, Lila and it was a rough sort of birth.

Less than a year later, my husband and I separated.

I made some questionable judgement calls.  (Divorce will mess you up.)

I got divorced.

I got a job at Chick-fil-A.

I met John.

I got married.

We moved.

I stopped working and started stay at home mom-ing.

I had a custody battle.

I lost the custody battle.

I had a daughter, Claire.

I left my church of twelve years and some change.

So much Big Life Stuff…all in less than five years.  I was thinking about things today, since, as you know, I’ve been dancing with depression for a couple of weeks now.  That’s a lot and it isn’t any wonder I’m tired.

My soul feels raw, like a burn when it’s healing.  It’s itching, it’s peeling, it’s red and irritated and it doesn’t look so great…but it’s healing.  I feel fragile, I feel exposed.  But it’s not a bad way to be.

Because when you’ve reached the end of your own endurance and really, really surrendered to the One who holds all Big Life Things, then you’re so much more spiritually aware.

I find myself wincing at my own negativity, taking my thoughts captive and turning them around.  I find myself tearing up over my gratitude journal, feeling every grace in its fullness.  I watch my baby clap her hands and dance to the Veggie Tales and my heart is full.  I listen to Lila singing, “You make beautiful things, you make beautiful things out of the dust.” and I feel those lyrics with her, knowing they are true.  How much did I miss when everything was okay and I was just cruising through the day?  Did I stop and really live in these moments?

He really does use suffering…which is such a strong word, anyway.  He really does use trial and trouble to bring us closer to Him.

Laura Hackett’s “Beautiful Mercy”

The title of this blog today comes from Laura Hackett’s song, “Beautiful Mercy”.  It’s linked above, give it a listen.

 

 

Big Life Stuff

What a week last week was.

It was mishap after mishap, bad luck after bad luck, distressing situation after distressing situation.  Nothing went right last week from about Wednesday on.  And this time it was not just the small and the petty.  It was Big Life Stuff.  I quickly became overwhelmed.  I became depressed and without hope.  I have to say right now to you, I don’t know any other way to be besides real. I so value the authentic and the true.  I am not good at pretending…. and so I’m putting it out there right now.  My truth last week was this:  I felt without hope of any kind and as though God had abandoned me completely.

I could not reconcile the issues I was facing with what I thought I knew about God.  I felt my life fall down in a million pieces and every hard thing that had happened to me in the past several years seemed to hit me right in the face.  I found myself grieving so many different things and feeling so lost, so hurt and so empty.  It was like the events of last week just brought down all the walls and all of the feelings I had not dealt with would no longer be ignored.  I cried an ocean of tears, I had a panic attack, I put my Bible in another room, far away from my hands.  I was overwhelmed in every way-  anger, sadness, grief, isolation, anxiety, hopelessness.  I felt sick at heart.

After a couple of days of refusing to even speak to God, I said this to Him, “I just don’t understand.”  And he gave me two pictures.

This was the first picture.  (Well, not THE picture, but an accurate representation of the picture.)  The table top is my life.  I built my life on lots of different pillars.  Pillars named things like:  my finances, my children, my husband, my material possessions, my hopes for a new pregnancy, Hope Community Church, my house, my car, my health, and many, many other things.  Sure, one of those pillars was named God…but only one.  These pillars have been shaken often over the past few years.  And when the pillars began to erode, break down, fall, get knocked over, even just vanish….the table became more and more unstable.  More and more unsteady.  Some of the broken crumbling pillars took out some of the stable ones.  And soon enough, only one was left.  And that was the pillar marked God.  God is supposed to be enough.  But when you make him just one spindly pillar over in a corner…the table is going to fall down.  And that’s what happened.  The whole thing came crashing down with a resounding boom.

And then God showed me another picture.

And when I took a moment off from feeling sorry for myself, I began to realize that maybe God wanted the whole table to fall to the ground.  Because maybe He wanted me to build it again…this time on the right type of pillar.

So, today, on the Monday after one of the most challenging weeks of my life, I am building a new table and it’s only going to have one pillar.  And that pillar is named God and God alone.

Is everything okay now?  Absolutely not.  But it seems to matter less now that I know why it all happened.  This is the process of refining, of pruning, of transformation.  This is the process of changing the inner me.  This is the process of decreasing so that He can increase.

Part of my gripe to God last week was this:  “I’ve done all that you have said.  I have trusted You.  I am working so hard on fixing myself…on learning to live thankful, on learning to live with hope.  I have tithed, I have served, I have done what You asked.  And all of this happened anyway.”

And God just simply said, “I work all things together for your good.  And it is for YOUR good that you change the way you live.  I am your pillar…the other things may be good things but they are NOT what you stand on.  I am what you stand on.”  And He has to be.  He has to be what I stand on if I want to live and love well.

I don’t know what’s going to happen next. I know that there is still a lot to sort out and walk through.  I am taking on today and today only.  Today, I will get up, do my work, live thankful, squeeze my babies, sing to the King, bake lemon bars, vacuum carpets, pray.  Today, I step warily out of fear, pain, worry, anxiety, confusion and I rebuild.  I stand on what I know and trust Him to show me what I don’t yet know.

I know that He is real.

I know that He is good.

I know that He loves me.

I know that He causes all things to work together for my good.

I know that His ways are not my ways.

Those are the things I am standing on.  Nothing less.  And…nothing more.  No extra pillars.  Only the God who never changes and never fails.

New Mercy

Yesterday was one of those days.

Do you know what I mean?  A day where all the minor, petty, irritants added up to a sky high heap?  A day where little ones are whining, crying, fighting and fussing.  Where noses are running and the dog keeps getting in the trash and house just keeps getting messier and then you get bills you didn’t expect and responsibilities that this was just not the best day for.  There are toys all over the place and you trip on the boots of teenage girls and you spill your coffee and it’s too hot in here and why is the baby fussing again?  And anyway, you’re not even feeling very well and would kill to lie down for just fifteen minutes.  Naptime seems 100 years away and the dog is whining and barking to go out and the little ones need so many things and you just need to pee and would like to do so without an audience.  You’re so, so tired and so, so frustrated.   You’re cleaning up messes you didn’t make and that no one every should’ve made and it’s only 10am…And then you take a minute to breathe and try and get your head together and someone pours out your Diet Pepsi into your yarn bag.

Days like that are commonplace in my line of work.  Every mom I know except the ones who lie have shared about days like these.  Days like these are kind of soul crushing and draining.  Days like these are decidedly NOT one of the perks of motherhood but they are a reality.

About halfway through the day, I had an epiphany.

I had fallen off the wagon.

Several weeks ago, right before Christmas, I felt God prompting me to work on my attitude.  It started with Kevin Gerald and his podcast series called “Favor Forever”.

I realized in listening to this series that I had the wrong mentality. My “poor me” mentality was stopping me from seeing how “rich” I really was. I was seeing every glass as half empty and not even noting what was in the glass at all. I was missing some of the things God was trying to do and show me. I was seeing the negative first and discounting the positive.

The next step was the negativity fast. I was seeing on friends’ Facebook walls a talk of a negativity fast. I posted about that  a few days ago and it has been very profitable.    I’ve been astounded at how much I had to correct myself on the negativity. How many times I’ve had to catch myself. I had no idea how many thoughts needed to be taken captive until I took the time to look for them.

The next thing was the “1000 Gifts” book and the dare to be thankful.

I have been tracking my blessings, graces, little gifts and big gifts since right after Christmas. I have discovered that my life abounds in beauty, joy and blessing. I have been steadied by this practice. I have been changed by this practice. I am now seeking out things to write in my gratitude journal…I’m reading back over the graces of the day…I’m looking for goodness in this land of the living.

But how quickly it all fell apart. One bad day. One hard day…that really, in the grand scheme of things was just a day of minor drama. I let that string of irritants win…I fell off the wagon. I went on a negativity fueled ungratefulness binge. I complained, I grouched, I even cried self pitying, childish tears, I vented…and you know what? I did not feel better.
The days I’ve studied joy, studied grace, studied happiness and blessing…those are the days I felt better. The days I’ve given the small stuff to God and chosen not to stress over it…those are the days I did better. Wallowing in my own crappy day just made me feel crappy.

So, back on the wagon today.  I ended yesterday with a repentant heart and repentant prayers.  I began today with a hopeful heart and hopeful prayers.  I’ve listed my gifts throughout the morning, I’ve come clean about my attitude and I started over.

Because, His mercies are new every morning.

Every morning.

Not So Still Waters That Run Deep

Lila sometimes asks hard questions.

She is a child who thinks a lot, puzzles things out, works hard to figure out the relationship between things and herself.  She pipes up after long silences with things like, “What if I had one thousand hands?” or “What if my bed was made out of marshmallows?” or “What if you and Daddy were still married?”  You never know what you might get.

Today, we are driving down the road after running errands and talking mostly about macaroni and cheese and she suddenly says, “When am I going to go to heaven?”

“Well,” I am taken aback and a bit unprepared.  I want to answer  really well.  I want to get this right and help form her faith in this moment, not make her fearful.  And five kids in, I still just don’t always know the right answers to these hard questions.  I flip through the catalog of responses I’ve built in nineteen years of mothering…nothing seems to fit.  Because you see, the usual standard answer of ‘when you’re really, really old’ won’t cut it with Lila.  Because she already knows that sometimes people die even when they aren’t very old.  She knows that sometimes young people die and sometimes little kids die and go to heaven and that sometimes other little kids get very sick and life just isn’t the same.  She has not been shielded from death and sickness because death and sickness would not be hidden.

“Usually,” I try to start again.  “People die when they are very, very, very old.”

“Hmm.”  a pause, then, “Like Polly or Paw?”  Two great grandmothers who are very much beloved, but indeed very, very old.

“Yes.”

“My dad is only forty.”  She says.  “And you’re forty five.”

“You’re right, Daddy is only forty.  But actually, I’m thirty nine and Stepdaddy is forty one.”  She always gets this mixed up and makes me older than everyone else.

“You’re not old yet,” she assures me.

“Thank you for that.”

“In heaven, can I watch tv even if I’m grounded?”

“You don’t get grounded in heaven.”

“Wow.  And Stepdaddy said I could play with real elephants in heaven.”  I’d love to know the full context of that conversation.

“That sounds wonderful.”  I say.  “Heaven is where we will go to live with God and all of our loved ones one day.  It’s beautiful and peaceful and perfect.”

“Are you sure I get to go there?”  she asks and my heart stops.

“Do you believe in Jesus?”  I ask and she says yes.  “Do you know why he died on the cross?”

“Yes, for all of our sins.”

“Do you think you have done sinful things?”

“Yes.”  And I think she really does get it, though her sins are so small.  She’s just a little girl.  Temper tantrums, stickers on walls, little lies to get out of trouble…these sins are the sins Jesus took on for her, just like all of our big sins.

“Do you think Jesus died on the cross for you?  Just for you?”  Breath held as she says, “Yes.”

“Well, then you’ll go to heaven one day.”

“Good.  I want to see what God looks like.”  Suddenly she stops and prays, “God, please let me have lots of dogs in heaven.” And then the conversation goes back to macaroni and cheese.

Fast forward half an hour and for whatever reason, the macaroni isn’t right and she is upset with me.  Arms crossed and brow furrowed, she says, “I don’t want to live with you…I just want to go to heaven with God and all of my dogs!”

And I hide my laughter in my coffee cup and let her just be mad about the macaroni.

No, No, Negative

Today, I begin my 40 Day Negativity fast.  I’ve been feeling the need for an attitude adjustment for a little while now.  Beginning with the custody/child support issues of 2009-2010, to financial stress and strain and ultimate bankruptcy, to continued financial stress and strain, to the loss of a much wanted pregnancy and subsequent surgery, to life in general…I have been fighting depression hard for a long time.

And it’s been hard because I believe in my head and heart that I have a good and blessed life.  I have a happy marriage, five children I adore, friends and family who are wonderful and supportive.  Yes, I’ve come through some hard things, but over all, I’ve got it pretty good.  I think it bottom lines to this: the struggle of my life has been the deeply planted root belief that God will save me from my sin and take me to heaven, but because of my unworthiness and the way of the world, He does not promise me good things on earth.  Sometimes they happen, but more often they do not.  This bitter root is the thing, I think, that allows depression a foothold in my life.

It is true that we are promised nothing and we are owed nothing.  But that is not the kind of father that God is.  He doesn’t give bread when His children ask for stones.  I think I lean so far away from the idea that God is a magic genie who will take away every obstacle, hard thing and worry in life and replace them with puppies and rainbows that I miss out on the good gifts He chooses to give in the day to day.  Make sense?

So…I need an attitude adjustment.  I need balance in my belief system.  I need to be accepting of the hard things that come in life but also accepting of the good and the easy.  I’m being pretty honest here, because I believe in the power of transparency.  Bringing things into the light means forcing things to release their grip.  No negativity for me for 40 Days (and hopefully longer!)  I’m amazed at how many thoughts I’ve already had to “fix” this morning!

40 Day Negativity Fast Igniting Faith in 40 Days

What a Negativity Fast is Not:

  1. It is not denying that problems exist

  2. It is not “stuffing things” that are wrong

  3. It is not critical of others who may be struggling

  4. It is not irresponsible concerning things that need to be done

What a Negativity Fast Is:

  1. It is determining to focus more on God’s promises than on problems

  2. It is learning to speak with hope about even the toughest of issues

  3. It is becoming “solution focused” rather than “problem focused”

  4. It is refraining from react giving voice to pessimism, criticism of others,

    self-criticism and other forms of unbelief.

  5. It is speaking about problems to the right people in the right way

  6. It is replacing negative words & thoughts with positive words & thoughts

    based on the promises of God